Monday, 24 November 2014

The BBC celebrates the couple who helped us undervalue our privacy

The BBC seems to treat this couple as heroes for helping Tesco to spy on its customers and – I argue – to undervalue their privacy.  The couple laid the foundations for the introduction of the Tesco Clubcard.  Storecards are a terrible privacy bargain.  Customer data is worth a lot more to stores than they pay their customers for it.  Of course, our credit card companies are selling data about our buying habits anyway, but the tradeoff there is about convenience and safety. Mileage will vary, but I personally consider that a reasonable tradeoff for many transactions. Besides, storecard schemes collect data about us regardless of what means of payment we choose.  Presumably that’s exactly the sort of data credit card companies want: what sort of stuff people buy on their cards, use cash for etc.  The price we pay is huge volumes of targeted marketing and great big databases chock full of information about things we value, which are bound to be compromised some day, if they haven’t been already.  How would we know?  In return, we get fractions of a penny for every pound we spend and feel like we’re getting something for free.

It seems like a terrible bargain to me, others value different things. But almost nobody – including me – knows for sure what the price really is. We don’t know how our data is being used or shared and we can’t trace individual pieces of spam back to source. We don’t know what information the storecard’s partners have about us, how or if it’s anonymised or even who they are.

Companies like this are actively trying to deceive us into giving them highly personal information about ourselves and to actively confuse us about the bargains we’re making. These people aren’t heroes, they’re opportunists of the sleasiest kind.

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